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The Ancients


Ruins of what may have been the Kaheiki heiau lie in the undergrowth in lower Nu‘uanu. But different accounts place this ancient temple in different locations.


Nu‘uanu is mentioned in the earliest legends, as Puakea has told us. Aside from the gods who were in residence here, who were the people? As in other parts of the islands, these ancients include the menehune and other strange creatures referred to as the ‘e‘epa. Like the menehune, the ‘e‘epa are generally described as being short in stature ("imps," one source says; "gnomes," according to another). These creatures were placed there by the gods to guard legendary beings described in the next page. But there are traditions and landscapes associated with them here.



The walled edge of a platform on this possible site of Kaheiki heiau. An extensive complex lies in the underbrush, but whether these are ancient or more recent ruins is unknown.


Kaheiki heiau is one such site. Kaheiki heiau is said by some to be located near the ridge between Nu‘uanu and neighboring Pauoa Valley. Westervelt's Hawaiian legends of old Honolulu (1991) states "There was a heiau of the menehunes, where the road goes up the valley, at the foot of the hill on the eastern side of Nu‘uanu Valley, the hill known now as Pacific Heights." But Robert Nui, in his work Lost Heiaus (no date), says that "Legends locate this temple in the vicinity of Waolani."

Of its origins, Robert Nui goes on to say "Kahano was a kupua or demi-god. He lay down on the ocean floor, stretched out his arms, resting one on Kahiki and the other on Oahu. Thus was formed a bridge for the menehunes to travel back and forth while building the temple of Kaheiki." The menehune for Ka-hanai-a-ke-akua, whose story is part of the legend of Keaomelemele, is told on the next page.



Kaheiki also appears in the story of Kaupe. Featured in this story is Kahilona, the priest of Kaheiki heiau. Under Kahilona, Kaheiki becomes the center of the mo‘o-kahuna class of priests, who are skilled in the art of kilokilo, or the reading of signs in the earth, sky and sea. (These mo‘o lineages, we will see, have their origin explained in the story of Keaomelemele).

Kaupe was a man-eating dog (a kupua, or demigod) who terrorized the islands, especially O‘ahu. Once he stole a chief's son from the island of Hawai‘i, and took him to O‘ahu to sacrifice. The chief then came to O‘ahu, landing secretly and going to Kaheiki to consult with Kahilona.

Kahilona taught the chief a number of prayers and chants to defend himself and outwit Kaupe. One of them went,

O Ku! O Lono! O Kane! O Kanaloa!
By the power of the gods,
by the strength of this prayer,
Save us two! Save us two!

Going at night to where the boy was held, this chief used those chants to set him free. They passed quietly past the sleeping dog, and fled in the direction of Kaheiki.


Two petroglyphs of dogs, in a rock overhang above Nu‘uanu stream. Numerous such carvings are found in area around Alekoki pool.



"While they were running, a great noise was heard far behind them, " Westervelt (1991: 205-8) writes in his version of the story: "The dog had been awakened, and had discovered the escaped prisoner. Then, rushing like like a whirlwind...he found the direction in which they had fled. This was the path naturally taken by those leaving O‘ahu to escape to Hawai‘i. The great dog, only waiting to learn the course taken, pursued them on wings of the wind."

But the two actually hid on O‘ahu as Kaupe fled to Hawai‘i. At Kaheiki they learned from Kahilona the prayers needed to defeat Kaupe. When they were fully instructed they returned to Hawai‘i and waged war against their enemy, and defeated him.

But it is said that the ghost of Kaupe was not killed: "He returned a ghost-god to the highest parts of Nu‘uanu Valley, where in his shadow body he can sometimes be seen in the clouds .... Sometimes his cloud form is that of a large dog, and sometimes he is very small; but there his ghost rests and watches over the lands which at one time he filled with terror."



The area most widely associated with the strange ancient inhabitants is Waolani, a small separated valley in upper Nu‘uanu. Robert Nui (n.d.) refers to Waolani as "the famed resort of the ‘e‘epa people." Kamakau (1993) similarly remarks that the ridges above Waolani were "where the ‘e‘epa people are said to have lived and most of the people of strange powers who lived at Waolani." McAllister (1933) wrote that it was in the vicinity of Waolani "that the menehunes came to the assistance of Kekupua in the building of a koa canoe for Kakai, chief of Wahiawa, that his wife might voyage to Kahiki in search of a lost brother."


This site on the ridge above Waolani is said to be the remains of a heiau of the Menehune. Kamakau wrote, "There was another heiau on the ridge adjoining Kapalama and looking into the valley called Ke-ana-a-ka-mano (the cave of the shark), and another looking into Nu‘uanu Valley, and these were the heiaus where the ‘e‘epa people are said to have lived and most of the people of strange powers who lived at Waolani".



The Pohaku-a-UmeUme is a famous stone in Waolani associated with these ancient peoples. Its legends are told in the Footprints chapter. But this stone also has historical significance. Here is a story told by Mrs. Anne Peleioholani Taylor, recorded in 1952 (Sterling & Summers, 1978: 303):


The knife-edge trail on the ridge above Waolani separates Nu‘uanu from Ke-ana-a-ka-mano, the upper valley of Kapalama.


"The stone was used to test the powers of those who would be umeume experts.

"The stone had powers connected with those of the lineage of the descendents of Oahu's king, Kakuhihewa. The stone had the magic ability to detect a true descendent of Kakuhihewa. When a umeume graduate tried to tilt the stone, he was unable to do so unless he was a descendant of Kakuhihewa.

"Pohaku-Aumeume was the place where any child of the Kakuhihewa line had its naval cut. It was more important that the mother have the blood of Kakuhihewa than the father. The magic powers of the stone were called upon in case there was a dispute over the name to be given the child or who was to rear the child.

"If the father's people wanted to name and rear the child and the mother's people wanted to name it for one of their ancestors, then the stone settled the argument."


"The priest of Waolani Heiau acted as judge and arbitrator. He held the child while the decision was made. The mother and her family would line up on one side of Pohaku-Aumeume. The father and his family lined up on the other side. Each family selected a person to do the testing. Often the mother decided to test the stone herself. If the mother were not in good health, she might ask her mother to be the tester.

"Whichever side was able to tilt or move the stone won the contest and the baby. He would select a name 'suggested by the stone,' from either family and award the child to whom he thought best."


The Pokahu-a-Umeume



These are some of the many tales and wondrous sites of ancient Nu‘uanu. Go to the next page to learn more about Nu‘uanu's legendary setting.



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